Thursday, November 25, 2010


Stumbled on this blog earlier today and spent some time listening to the archived broadcasts:

AFRTS Archive

AFRTS stands for Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, and it is the 'command information' service that brings news and entertainment to US service members and their families stationed worldwide.

Before the advent of internet, cable TV and satellite communications AFRTS was often the only 'voice of home' available to service members.  AFRTS, through its local and regional AFN (Armed Forces Network) affiliates like AFN Europe and AFN Korea provided (and still provides) American TV and radio broadcasts and programming to meet the unique needs of the regional listening audiences.  For example, AFN Europe would provide radio and TV news coverage of events happening in Germany that impacted soldiers and their families, like daily monetary exchange rates, local weather reports (helpfully provided by US Air Force weather forecasters), local traffic conditions on German roads and even local community festival schedules.

AFN would provide a mix of stateside TV programming (Sesame Street or 20 year old episodes of 'Gunsmoke' or current soap operas), the occasional live sporting event (we always got to see the Super Bowl) and old movies interspersed with locally produced shows like 'Gasthaus', a weekly program on German culture and events, or local news spots about unit football competitions or upcoming military exercises.  Since AFRTS is a non-profit operation specifically for US military consumption the major networks provided programming at reduced rates.  However, the commercials had to be stripped out and replaced with government 'infomercials'.  These informercials were often quite drab - 30 second or minute long spots on such scintillating topics as "Safeguarding your military ID card" or "Remember to keep your barracks door locked to prevent theft".

Since much of the local programming was done by young service members who joined the military specifically to learn the ins and outs of radio and TV production the locally produced infomercials and other TV spots could be quite humorous.  When you turn a bunch of 19-year olds loose with a camera and orders to come up with a TV spot on, say, ways to alleviate the family housing shortage you can end up with some pretty funny stuff.

AFN was our link to home.  AFN TV provided the kids and wives a window back in to what was happening in America, and AFN Radio was the 'background noise' to our life in Germany.  Every unit kept a radio tuned to AFN (after all, it was a 'command information' service).  Walk in to any orderly room, barracks, motor pool or supply room in Germany and you'd hear AFN booming from a radio.  Heck, even Germans tuned regularly to AFN radio for the music programming, it was that good.

Today when I listen to an old AFN Radio broadcast and hear the distinctive AFN Europe hourly time signal ("beep, beep, beep, beep, BEEEEEEP - From AP, UPI and the major American networks, the news is next on AFN") I am pulled back to Germany in the early 1980s and the height of the Cold War, walks through the quiet snow blanketed market square of Heidelberg on a Christmas night, drives through the Bavarian Alps on bright sunlit summer days, cruises down the Rhine River through the Loreli Gorge and strolls through small towns so old the cobblestones in the streets were placed well before the American Revolution.

Great times and wonderful memories all framed by the sights and sounds of AFRTS.


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